Will Chromecast kill off MHL & SlimPort?

Will we still need cables or will Chromecast negate this need?

Google_ChromecastJust over 12 months ago, Google released Chromecast.

What is Chromecast I hear you ask?

Google describe it as “a thumb-sized media streaming device that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV. Set it up with a simple mobile app, then send your favourite online shows, movies, music and more to your TV using your smartphone, tablet or laptop.”

So what it essentially allows you to do is make your HDMI enabled monitor or TV a little smarter.

An app on your smartphone communicates via WiFi with the Chromecast and thanks to apps on the Chromecast you could get added functionality on your big screen.

Google_Chromecast1So for example;  the YouTube video or Netflix rental you used to watch on the smartphone can now be watched on the big screen.  Your smartphone could then be used as aremote control for that content where applicable and you could also do other things on your phone whilst the content was still being streamed on the big screen.  This is particularly helpful if you are watching a movie but not paying too much attention as you complete emails and text message replies on your phone.

How this actually works is the Chromecast acts independently, thanks to the software wizardry.  Essentially when you tell your device to ‘cast’ the content to the Chromecast, it goes off online and pulls the content from the location itself, thus the phone is not needed for the most part and you can then multi-task.

Google_Chromecast_Apps

Over the last 12 months, the number of apps and functionality has increased.

The most recent update is the ability on selected devices to now cast your device screen to the TV.  Where once you could only play select content back, you can now play back anything on your mobile device screen.

Whilst this is limited at the time of writing to select devices, this will grow as updates roll out to other handsets.

What this means now is that all content on your smartphone appears on the TV once you have asked it to be cast.

So, imagine you are sat on the sofa.  You are looking at some photos on your phone.  You go into the Chromecast app on the phone, select to cast your screen and now everything you see on the phone display is mirrored on the TV.  Others in the phone can see those photos.

Google_Chromecast_TV

This is just one such example, but there are many others, including using it for a business presentation, an app demonstration and more.

All sounds great and all this from a little adapter that plugs into the back of your HDMI enabled screen for just £30.

SlimPort_External_Display_E

However many smartphones do also have MHL or SlimPort capabilities built into them and I can not help but think such functionality of the Chromecast will reduce the need or reliance on MHL and SlimPort technology.

what do I need to use MHL

Both have the potential to be more reliable because they require cable connections and can support up to 4K video, whereas Chromecast relies on wireless and outputs currently at a maximum of 1080p.

That said, the cables cost money and the price of the Chromecast is similar.  The setup time of each is similar too.

The downside to Chromecast is that it is currently limited to 1080p, (it is going to be some time before 4K becomes mainstream) and that it uses the 2.4GHz wireless frequency rather than offering an option for 5GHz.

Whilst I am sold into the Google ecosystem, the Chromecast does rely on you having an Android smartphone and wishing to purchase the Chromecast.

SlimPort and MHL whilst primarily seen in Android devices is capable of being integrated into other hardware so it is potentially more versatile.

MHL_Slimport

With many Android devices, as standard home and app tray screen do not orient in landscape which is the natural orientation for a larger display such as a TV.  Apps like Apex launcher and others help, but Google needs to add this functionality to make the screen casting really useful.

Only time will tell whether Chromecast will become the thing to own rather than MHL or SlimPort, but I know from owning and using it personally it is a very powerful product that has a real potential and it is exciting to see how this will develop over time.  I imagine version 2 will be even better.

What do you think about this? Which one is best and will win long term?

Android Wear & LG G Watch – 1 week on

DSC_4472Despite being surrounded by the latest technology, I have up until recently never been interested personally in using and wearing a Smartwatch.

I can clearly see the value that such products bring but none have made me go ‘I want that’.

With the introduction of Android Wear my opinion began to change and like many I suddenly now had the urge for this new breed of wearable technology, after seeing the Motorola Moto 360.

The 360 looks like it can pass as an ordinary wristwatch rather than some Sci-Fi bit of kit (all be it is more than a conventional wristwatch).

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The Moto G and Moto E bring modern technology to the masses. This is why you should buy one. 

Motorola’s battle for the budget conscious.

motorola-banner-clove

Just about 3 and a half years ago I was blown away by a smartphone. It had a 4.3 inch screen at 480 x 800 pixels (217 ppi), an 8 megapixel camera and an impressive 1GHz processor (single-core of course). This phone was the HTC Desire HD, a handset at the peak of the day’s mobile technology. That incredible specification was yours for the comparatively cheap price of £415.

Way back then, when new Android version numbers began with a 2, buying a smartphone on a budget was an absolute minefield. There was nothing better than that previous specification and paying any less than a couple of hundred quid meant you were almost certainly saddled with a phone that had minimal storage and working memory, a tiny low resolution screen and a camera that made everyone look like Mario from the 80′s.

The ever onward march of technology continues though and in accordance with Moore’s law, we now find ourselves with handheld computers capable of demolishing the flagship giants of just a few years past. Today the entry-level Motorola Moto E could go blow for blow with the old king of the castle that once wowed me, and come out on top, for less than £100.

Forget ‘cheap’, budget phones are now ‘economical’

motorola-logoSome people got burned by smartphones a few years ago. Low cost models that looked appealing on cheaper tariffs often failed to perform well. Similar to buying lower grade laptops and desktop computers, the corners cut to save costs often resulted in a lacklustre experience not long after purchase and difficulties in using the phone further down the line.

Quite rightly these bad experiences have made may approach this category with caution.

Rest assured these days are long past and right now has never been a better time to get hold of a cost effective smartphone. With advancements in mobile processors, screen technology and the drop in cost of memory, the cheapest smartphones available today are more than capable of providing a high quality and enriching experience.

The word ‘cheap’ brings with it bad connotations such as poor build quality and underperforming components. A better word is ‘economical’. Motorola’s Moto E & G smartphones have shown that a known brand can bring well designed, feature-filled smartphones, which are built to last, at a price unthinkable not too long ago.

Changing expectations

moto-g-clove-croppedSmartphones don’t have the wow factor of a few years ago. When the market was building, it only took small improvements and relatively minor new features to impress. In today’s world though, even if you don’t own one, pretty much everyone has seen a smartphone and has a decent idea of what they can do.

For those looking at the latest and greatest smartphones, there will always be new features & technology to justify the top flight price tags for the likes of  Samsung, HTC and Sony’s more expensive products.

In contrast though, more and more common consumers are looking to work out the best value for money. If a 20 megapixel camera, suite of office and productivity applications or chassis made from a single piece of machined aluminium don’t interest you, then getting the best basic functionality for the money spent is probably your priority.

A shift in focus

This new type of customer is exactly where Motorola are now aiming at impressing. With the critically acclaimed Moto X now discontinued in the UK, Motorola’s product range has been trimmed (at least for a few months) to just the Moto E and Moto G. The G was a runaway success in the entry-level category last year and the Moto E has brought the best of this concept down to just £99 including VAT.

This is a truly disruptive price that changes the market at this level. For a standard user the Moto E does pretty much everything you could require from a smartphone at a price unthinkable just a few years ago. If you want to join the smartphone club and experience apps, Internet connectivity and social media on the move, the Moto E is the best high-quality device available at a pocket-friendly price.

The new Moto G 4G, available mid June, ups the price a little bit to £159. Included for this raise is support for high speed 4G connectivity for those that can access it, and a micro SD memory card that was missing on the old G. You also get a quad-core processor and more base storage, perfect if you want to try out some new games!

Break the contract and go SIM free

moto-e-clove-croppedMost handsets on the high street have typically been sold with a subsidy; the network provider sells you a service and provides the phone with a big discount. This system is great if you want the latest hardware and can’t afford the £500+ price tag in one go.

More recently though, most mobile operators have begun offering good value for money ‘SIM only’ deals, where you can receive the same service or better at a drastically reduced price. The only difference is you don’t get a phone included.

With the rise of highly capable budget smartphones such as the Moto E & G, SIM only deals are more attractive than ever. Depending on your current contract, you might save yourself upwards of £20 a month switching to SIM only. You also generally get the option of being able to cancel at any time with only a month’s notice.

With a Moto E costing only £100, changing your contract and going SIM free could pay for itself in just a few months. Even new Pay As You Go deals with data included are very cost effective.

Sony Xperia Z1 Compact – 3 months later

Z1_Compact_Review_ImageBack in February I reviewed the Xperia Z1 Compact from Sony.

If you want some background then you can read my full written review, or if you prefer you can watch the video at the end of this post.

I waited a long time for a device like the Compact.

I don’t wish to be a spoiler but my conclusion was as follows:

I was never a real fan of the Z1, but admired what Sony had accomplished. I felt compelled to like the Z1 Compact long before even getting my hands on it, because it offered just what Samsung and HTC’s comparable ‘Mini’ devices failed to.

On too many occasions I have spoken to people who have bought the Mini devices thinking they did everything the more publicised S3, S4 and HTC One flagships did, only to find out when it was too late that they were either misinformed or mislead.

With the Z1 Compact the story is very different, even if it commands a slightly higher price.

Some will find fault, but I doubt anyone can show me a device that is perfect for everyone. Personally, I think I may just have to take credit card out and make this my personal device for the next 12 months.

As the conclusion suggested, I did choose to personally swap to the Z1 Compact and have now been using it for a period of 3 months. So I thought I would share my opinions and feelings after this amount of time. Read more after the break.

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The dawn of the smart connected home

archos smart home tabletIf I were to ask you to think about what a home of the future may look like, your vision will no doubt be different to mine or somebody else’s. However, one consistent theme that I imagine would exist is the idea or notion of connectivity and integration.

What I mean by this is that everything in our lives is in sync and we have greater control over what we do and when we do it.

Starting with simple tasks like being able to put the oven on from work so by the time you get home, it’s hot and ready to be used.

There may then be the slightly more adventurous vision that you can remotely open and close doors to let the dog in or out or a maintenance man.

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The Sony Z1 Compact is the device for me

Z1_Compact_Review_ImageOnly a few weeks ago I wrote here about how I thought the Z1 Compact may not be the device for me, despite my desire for it to be.

At the time of writing, I was going off of the spec sheet and the overriding area of concern was the physical size of the phone in comparison to what was then my primary device, the Samsung Galaxy S4.

The Z1 Compact was only factionally smaller, despite having a 0.7” smaller screen, so you may see my reasoning for thinking there would be little point in changing.

Well a few weeks on I can say I must take back what I said. The Z1 Compact is the device for me. I have switched to this as my daily phone.

Am I settled with it completely yet? Honestly speaking, no; but I am close to being.

It is taking a bit of time to adjust from the Samsung UI to the Sony one, but with the help of time and a few apps I am very close.

When the device actually made it to the palm of my hand and I compared it to the S4 the difference was certainly noticeable.

One handed use is now possible. It was on the S4, but it was not easy or comfortable.

It is easy for me to say this, but there is a bit of excess bezel around the device which would be nice to see gone, but no doubt if a Sony engineer read this they would be screaming at me, telling me it is not possible in such a small phone!

Some may argue it is a step back or wonder why, but it is always a personal decision and I am pleased to say my initial hopes and desires have been proven with the Z1 Compact.

The IP rating is of benefit and the phone feels more premium thanks to the aluminium frame.

The battery life is considerably better than that of the S4. This may have something to do with the lower resolution display but I can live with this for the majority of what I do. I won’t lie and say full 1080p would be nice, as the difference is noticeable, but on a scale of things I am willing to give up, the screen sits towards the top of the list.

The covers on the ports can be a fiddle as I have yet to invest in the DK32 charging dock, but when the battery can last a couple of days its a much smaller issue.

So to conclude, I am very happy with the Z1 Compact. It is not often until you get the device and use it do you really appreciate what it has to offer and should often not discount something just because of its specs or physical dimensions.

If you are interested to hear more detailed feedback on the device, then read or watch my full review here. I will too provide more thought and opinion on the device in a few months time, here on the Clove Blog.

I thought the Xperia Z1 Compact was the device for me

Sony Xperia Z1 CompactFor some time now I have been wanting a device that does it all but is smaller than the feature rich handsets that currently exist on the market.

Most of the feature rich handsets that I want have a screen size of 4.7” and above. However I am demanding something smaller, something with a 4.3” to 4.5” display.

The reason being is I just find the bigger handsets a little bit cumbersome to use sometimes. I wrote about my plight back in August last year here.

As I mentioned last year the Sony Xperia Arc was an epic device, I loved it and I think part of me is hanging out to rekindle that love.

When Sony announced the Xperia Z1F for the Japanese market I let out a little yelp of joy and sadness. Joy at the fact that what I thought would be perfect had been announced, but sadness that it was launched only in Japan only.

Motorola Moto G

Then the Motorola Moto G comes along and gets considerably close to what I want but it does not have it all, it does not have the higher end features such as video out and ideally I would like a higher resolution camera.

Slightly depressed I put it to the back of my mind and then Sony announced the Z1F as the Z1 Compact at CES. They caught my attention again!

Twitching with excitement like many smartphone lovers do (sad and geeky I know) I began looking through the tech specs. The smaller battery is a shame but the device is smaller than the Z1. The lower screen resolution is not an issue for me either and it will drain less power so together they are not that much of an issue.

IP rating over and above my Samsung Galaxy S4 is a bonus, but then the high came crashing down. I looked at the dimensions and compared it to the S4.

The S4 measures 136.6 x 69.8 x 7.9mm whilst the Z1 Compact 127 x 64.9 x 9.5mm.

Of course the Z1 Compact is smaller but there isn’t that much variance in my opinion considering there is 0.7” difference between the two screen sizes.

Now I have yet to actually hold the Z1 Compact in hand, so it may feel smaller than the S4 when I actually use it, however I am concerned that there will not actually be enough physical size difference between the two to make the Compact the device I desire. I am concerned I will be thinking for the marginal extra size, I might as well continue with a device with a much bigger screen and higher resolution.

The extra size has to be down to Sony’s styling and IP rating, so maybe in 12 months time there will be a different device that suits me perfectly, or maybe when I get my hands on it in very soon I will change my mind.

This is most definitely a first world problem but I am sure I am not alone when I say that it would be great to find the perfect device for me.

If you find yourself in similar situations, let me know.

A smartphone purchase – an emotional roller coaster

Roller_Coaster

Saying that buying a smartphone is an emotional roller coaster may sound a little dramatic, but at the end of the day it is all about emotions and like a roller coaster there are ups and downs, twists and turns, we may just not really think about it so much.

Lets look at the facts:

You decide you want a fun day out full of thrills and adventure
You make a decision you need a new phone

You hear there is a new ride being built at the local park
You hear that a new phone is to be announced at the next tech conference

You anxiously wait for the new ride to be built
You anxiously wait for the new phone to be announced

You hear the ride is better or worse than you had imagined
You read the specs of the phone are better or worse than you had read previously

The ride is complete and unveiled to the world
The phone is announced

Initial reactions and feedback comes in from thrill seekers
Initial reactions and opinions come in from tech journalists

You decide to go and try it for yourself
You decide it is the phone for you

You wait for the day to come until you can ride it
You wait for the first stock to go on sale

You are apprehensive as to what it will be like – The wait seems to last for ever
You are excited and nervous as to whether you made the right decision -– The wait seems to last for ever

You go to the park, your about to ride the roller coaster
Launch day is here and your order is about to ship

Your up, you’re seated and about to go
Your order has shipped and the phone will be with you tomorrow

The ride begins and you can’t control yourself
The package is here, you just want to open it

You love every minute of the ride despite the scary parts
You love your phone despite the fact it cost you a fortune

The ride has ended but you want to go again.
Your battery has died where you keep trying things

You go again
You charge it up and keep trying and testing

The pattern continues until you loose the excitement, there are better ride and better phones, so you start the whole process again.

At each stage of the process be it the roller coaster you are thinking or feeling something about the whole scenario. You may not communicate it to others but you feel it. Happy, sad, dubious, anxious, excited, you get the picture.

We all come with different thoughts and opinions and phone buying habits but I wouldn’t mind betting if you like the latest phones or have an interest in technology, your thought pattern is something similar.

If you need help dealing with your smartphone buying roller coaster, we at Clove are here to help as we go through the exact same thing.

HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4 upgrade dilemma

For the last 12 months I have quite happily been using the Samsung Galaxy S3 as my phone of choice.  Believe it or not, despite the wealth of handsets I have on offer to me in my role I do not change that often. In fact I have little need to upgrade even now, but I have recently sustained some damage to my S3 so now seems as suitable time as any to decide on an upgrade.

I could spend days looking at all the finer points of which device to go to next, but here is the though process I have gone through.image

What I like about the Samsung Galaxy S3?

My S3 has held up pretty well. Whilst not perfect in every area it still runs fairly fast, the battery life is acceptable and there are plenty of features on the phone.

I like that it is well supported with accessories and some of the key things like microUSB positioning work well. For example it frustrates me how Sony’s microUSB ports are on the side of the phone.

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Naming conventions and design strategy: Samsung vs HTC

Revolution vs Evolution

Both HTC and Samsung have just announced new top of the range devices. Both run on Android and have comparable feature sets, but the design approach and naming conventions used for the two are vastly different. Samsung’s approach to its flagship over the last 12 months – a consistent name and form factor – has given it an advantage other than money when it comes to marketing, which is quite the opposite to how HTC is positioned.

Many have been quick to comment, almost discerningly, that the Galaxy S4 is an evolution, rather than revolution, of the S3. This is true, but it’s a wise and well-considered move from Samsung – at this stage it’s much better in terms of sales for it to make iterative additions to its catalogue than to revolutionise its flagship each year. That’s not to say HTC’s choice to overhaul its design is foolish – it isn’t – but rather that decisions made over the last couple of years have dictated how these two handsets are named and shaped.

So the Samsung Galaxy S4 seems like a slight upgrade from the S3, but we shouldn’t have expected anything else. It may look very similar to its predecessor, but it also looks similar to the Note 2 and, to an extent, the S3 mini. You can tell it’s an upgrade, but not so much so that it’s unrecognisable from the rest of the family. Similarly, we can expect the Galaxy Note 3 to follow the design of the S4 – as was the case with the equivalents last year – and we may even see an S4 mini released  to offer a feature set that sits between the S3 and the S3 Mini. This creates a situation for Samsung whereby it has 5 or 6 devices released within 18 months of each other that have the same look, but cover a spectrum of features and budgets. In other words, if you want to buy a new smartphone, chances are a member of the Galaxy S or Galaxy Note range will fit your criteria. At the moment, therefore, it doesn’t make sense for Samsung to revolutionise a handset and form factor that has become so well-known.

Galaxy Comparison

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